DHA and why it’s critical

DHA and why it’s critical

By Dr. Madhavi Gupta, M.D.


DHA is short for docosahexaenoic acid. It is a long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid in the omega-3 fatty acid family. Omega-3 fatty acids include EPA and DHA, but when it comes to brain health, DHA “rules.” The human brain is made up of nearly 60% fat, and DHA is the predominant fatty acid found in the brain (1,2). DHA and EPA are both “essential” fatty acids, which means that the body cannot make them on its own, and they must be consumed through dietary sources.

DHA is a primary structural component of the human brain, cerebral cortex, skin, and retina. DHA regulates neurogenesis (formation of new brain cells called neurons), neurotrophic factor (regulates growth of neurons), and synaptogenesis (formation of connections between neurons). Because it makes up the cell membrane and affects cell structure in postsynaptic neurons, it plays a role in releasing serotonin in the brain and important functions, such as sleep, memory, mood, and behavior (3-5).

Unfortunately, DHA intake and levels in women in the United States are amongst the lowest in the world. Our U.S. food supply is largely void of DHA due to over-consumption of vegetable oils which contain inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids (e.g., soybean, safflower, sunflower, corn, canola, cottonseed), meat from feedlot animals (that consume abundant amounts of soy and corn), and not consuming enough of these important omega-3 fatty acids (6).

DHA accumulates in the centers of the brain involved in memory and attention. In a study published in the Medical Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that healthy adults who consumed 1.16 grams of DHA per day for 6 months, significantly improved both their memory and reaction time (7). A recent study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex showed that supplementing with 2.2 grams of DHA and EPA per day significantly improved the brain function (8). What’s more, using neuroimaging, the researchers found that supplementation improved the composition of the participants’ brains.

In addition to wild salmon, other good whole food sources of DHA and EPA include:

  • Mackerel
  • Herring
  • Anchovy
  • Sardines
  • Trout

Other food sources include cod liver oil, sardines, and pasture-fed organic butter or ghee (these are also high in D3). If you are vegan, plant sources of Omega 3 include flax, chia, hemp and walnuts.

When choosing an omega-3, keep this in mind:
Marine animals such as fish and krill, which provide EPA and DHA, are mostly
promoted for their protective effects on your heart. Flaxseed, chia, hemp, and a few other foods, on the other hand, offer alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). Most of the cellular health benefits linked to omega-3 fats are linked to the animal-based EPA and DHA, not the plant-based ALA.

When choosing fatty fish as your best sources of DHA and EPA, it’s important to choose wild-caught fish from a trusted source to ensure that you get the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids and the lowest levels of heavy metals (e.g., mercury). Purity matters. This is why it’s recommended to supplement with a high-quality fish oil supplement daily.

Best Nest Wellness makes an Omega-3 supplement to meet these needs.

A Word About the Types of DHA
DHA is often put into a prenatal vitamin. But did you know that that form of DHA is made from ethyl esters? Ethyl esters are a form of DHA that is made during the purification process. It turns into alcohol when metabolized by the body. Alcohol is something you want to avoid if you are pregnant.

Best Nest Wellness makes DHA in the triglyceride form, which is the form of DHA that is closest to its natural state, just ultra-purified and free of mercury. You can’t compact it like you can an ethyl ester. For that reason, you can’t fit it into a multivitamin.

1. Chang C-Y, Ke D-S, Chen J-Y. Essential fatty acids and human brain. Acta
Neurol Tiwanica. 2009;18(4):231-241.

2. Crawford MA, Bloom M, Broadhurst CJ, et al. Evidence for the unique
function of docosahexaenoic acid during the evolution of the modern hominid
brain. Lipids. 1999;34 Suppl:S39-S47.

3. Hibbeln JR, Nieminen LRG, Blasbalg TL, Riggs JA, Lands WEM. Healthy
intakes of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids: estimations considering worldwide diversity.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(6 Suppl):1483S - 1493S.

4. Hibbeln JR, Ferguson TA, Blasbalg TL. Omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies in
neurodevelopment, aggression and autonomic dysregulation: opportunities for
intervention. Int Rev Psychiatry abingdon Engl. 2006;18(2):107-

5. Parker G, Gibson NA, Brotchie H, Heruc G, Rees A-M, Hadzi-Pavlovic D.
Omega-3 fatty acids and mood disorders. Am J Psychiatry. 2006;163(6):969-
978. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.163.6.969.

6. Blasbalg TL, Hibbeln JR, Ramsden CE, Majchrzak SF, Rawlings RR. Changes
in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States
during the 20th century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(5):950-962.

7. Stonehouse W, Conlon CA, Podd J, et al. DHA supplementation
improved both memory and reaction time in healthy young adults: a
randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;97(5):1134-

8. Witte AV, Kerti L, Hermannstådter HM, et al. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids
improve brain function and structure in older adults. Cereb Cortex N Y N 1991.
2014;24 (11):3059-3068. doi:10.1093/cercor/bht163.

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